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Of Conner and Voytik and Chryst’s discontent on the fifth day of spring drills


Here are three highlights from the fifth day of Pitt spring drills Tuesday:
— Coach Paul Chryst was unhappy with his team’s energy level.
— Running back James Conner – make that marquee running back James Conner — lined up for a few snaps at defensive end for the first time this spring.
— Quarterback Chad Voytik struggled at times, but threw two long, pinpoint passes to redshirt freshmen wide receivers Zach Challingsworth and Jester Weah that would have been touchdowns if this was a game that mattered.
Hey, it’s spring. Nothing matters all that much (except to the coaches, and to them everything matters). But I ranked the three events in what I believe is their order of importance.
Let’s start with the head coach’s discontent.
If you watch the man for any length of time, you can’t help but respect the way he holds his temper, keeps the veins from bulging in his neck, but still gets the message across to the team.
Less than halfway through the session, Chryst stopped practice and called the team together in the middle of the field. The music that had been blaring through loudspeakers was shut off.
I couldn’t get everything Chryst said – I guess it would have been poor form if I inched toward the huddle so I could hear – but he did say, “… way behind on day 5.”
His lecture was brief, and when it broke up and practice resumed (without the music), I didn’t notice as many guys jumping offsides or dropping passes.
Message received.
Later, Chryst talked about the day.
“As a group, as a whole, I didn’t think we had the energy we needed,” he said. “We have to get better as a team.”
When he was asked if the players’ timing was bad – the poor effort coming after three off days – Chryst was only half-kidding when he said, “I think we should just practice every day. We would be better off for it.
“We got off to a slow start and some guys didn’t get out of that funk.”
Chryst wasn’t especially angry with his team. (If I’m wrong, he hid it well.) But he did admit that players are having a lot of plays and alignments thrown at them in a short period of time, and sometimes young people hit a wall.
“Some guys can reach a saturation point,” he said. “You have to find out what that is.”
That is REALLY what spring is about.
The Conner situation is interesting for a simple reason: When he played running back and defensive end in the bowl game Dec. 26, he became the first Pitt player to play both sides of the ball since quarterback/safety Rick Trocano in the late 1970s. If there was someone else between Trocano and Conner, please let me know.
Conner is the team’s best running back. He has a chance to be one of the ACC’s best by the end of the season.
Why play him at defensive end and risk wearing him out or, worse, increase his chance of getting injured?
I’m glad you asked.
Most importantly, he can do it. He is a supremely talented athlete who was, actually, recruited from Erie McDowell to play defensive end. He’s young (not yet 19), and he doesn’t think about getting tired like many people twice his age do.
Second, Pitt has a need at end. It was magnified Tuesday when Ejuan Price missed practice while resting a back injury that forced him to sit out most of last season.
(Although, I’ll say this: Starting defensive end David Durham looks to be having a good camp. He was throwing ball carriers around with little regard to their safety.) At the other end, sophomore Shakir Soto, 6-foot-3, 255 pounds, at least looks the part.
But Pitt needs depth at the position. Using Conner in that role in certain situations – not more than 10 snaps per game – probably isn’t a bad idea.
I don’t think I’ve seen a quarterback practice harder and put more effort into his throws than Voytik has done over the past several days.
He’s not blessed with great size or the rocket arm that hangs from Tom Savage’s shoulder. But Voytik puts everything he has into his throws, calling on his right arm, shoulder, legs, hands and feet to get the football where it needs to go. His 40-yard (or so) throws to Challingsworth and Weah couldn’t have been more accurate.
Only one-third of the way through spring drills, Voytik has a long way to go. But he’s a fighter. That matters, too.
Offensive left tackle Adam Bisnowaty missed practice for the fifth consecutive day, but Chryst said he’s making progress from his back injury.
“He’s feeling a little bit more confident about everything, slowly building (up) that level of work and — so far, knock on wood — no setbacks. It’s good, but he’s in the process.”
Also missing was outside linebacker Anthony Gonzalez, who is day-to-day, according to his coach. Bam Bradley stepped into Gonzalez’s starting spot.
Defensive linemen Devin Cook and LaQuentin Smith, offensive lineman Gabe Roberts and wide receiver Kevin Weatherspoon also were limited by injuries. … Cornerback Trenton Coles returned from a groin strain and practiced with a slight limp.
Offensive right tackle T.J. Clemmings had two pancake blocks of Bradley and middle linebacker Matt Galambos. … Redshirt freshman Jaryd Jones-Smith, 6-7, 295, is getting a lot of work at tackle and guard.



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